Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Naturalists

I am hard-of-hearing, and was wondering if there are any other naturalists who are Deaf/HOH, and how you overcome challenges in the field-- specifically when it comes to strategies for IDing animals without sound.

I myself am deaf in one ear, so I can hear, but not as well as hearing people, and I noticed that ever since I got the Merlin Bird ID app on my phone, I have been able to observe more birds than I used to. This was interesting as I have always birdwatched and other activities using sight, since it is a struggle to hear a bird or frog over the sound of cars, wind, crunching leaves, etc.

I would love to know, if you are Deaf or HOH, what you do to get the most out of just sight ID.


Sight and experience. Black Sabbath and Billy Idol concerts cost me some decibels.

I’ve heard it said that loss of one sense leads to increase in the others. Not sure that’s true so much as years of watching for movement in my periphery and “things that don’t look quite right.”


I have not seen them participating for several months, but @sunguramy had a posting about their experiences with observing birds with low hearing. What they described in that posting was similar to what you describe. Here:

Is it possible to get IDs just of sounds (no photos)?

SUNGURAMY: Sound only: I have gotten an ID of a flying squirrel with the sound only, even! I was stumped having not heard one before.

Re: Merlin - I understand the frustration of euro/american centric and that is its own issue for sure. But Id like to provide another viewpoint. I am hard of hearing. I dont have many bird observations for a reason - i typically dont hear them. I can turn on Merlin and know if there are any around and maybe what they are (it’s pretty accurate for my area). I ask my birding friends how they find birds, because even when Im with them I can rarely spot a bird unless its close enough / still enough for a very accurate point; and unanimous they say “we hear the call and zero in on where the sound is coming from”. Most can ID from the call too, which is far beyond my physical disability limitations. I literally thought there was no chance I could learn what birds are around because none of that is an option for me - even if i hear one, i dont hear well enough to get a direction. Merlin is really my only link to this whole kingdom even if all it did was tell me birds were around, it would be worth it!

I hope they expand it to be more worthwhile in other regions too”


I was gifted a pair of high quality hearing aids. Game changer! Now, with the help of Merlin I find more birds are in the area, still not always visible. These hearing aids have a great volume control, so I can turn them up higher than I need for correction, and I have to be careful to turn them back to ‘ normal’.
Before this I was sight only, and found slow walking or sitting still in bird active areas productive. Time and patience. Learning when and where the birds nest and feed can get you to good areas. Where I live now, I walk woods, the trees so tall it’s very difficult to see many birds, unless they show themselves.


Thanks for all of these comments. I will be getting hearing aids soon and your comments give me hope.


My husband just got hearing aids and I’m rather envious; they have so much unexpected functionality for different situations. It has restaurant settin to screen out background noise or you can change the target frequency. One example, the level can be turned down in one ear to avoid an annoying sound on that side (a crying baby in a cafe), so you can better attend sounds on the other side… I could see that being useful in the field.

My hearing loss does not yet warrant hearing devices, per my medical group. But, I think they would help.


Lol, I agree that’s not always true: I need glasses or else everything is blurry, I have spent so much time cleaning wildlife clinic dishes/ cleaning bones that I can’t smell any animal smells anymore, and that leaves just taste and touch which don’t really help with ID (and can be dangerous sometimes).


A friend and fellow birder has poor hearing but really good vision. I still have really good hearing but my eyesight is really bad. We’re about the same age and getting up there in years. I’ve told him that together we make one really good birder.

I think the Merlin app is pretty amazing and I’ve seen it pick up birds that were on the edge of my hearing or that I failed to detect in a chorus of other species. Really remarkable.


I “discovered” I have severe hearing loss due to multiple reasons, and recently was prescribed hearing aids by an audiologist. I’ve had them since June, and they are a game changer. The first day I had them, I came home, stepped out on my deck, and was greeted by a seeming jungle of bird calls and sounds. I literally didn’t know what I was missing.


You can also DIY a parabolic microphone if your hearing is sufficient enough to detect a direction


I spent several days removing one aid to compare what I heard with and without. It literally made me cry to understand how much I was missing. They are aids, not miracles and some sounds I still miss. And humans often speak too rapidly for me to decode into words. I can also use them to help distract from the constant unremitting tinnitus, and that too, is a blessing.
I encourage everyone with hearing difficulties to pursue help ASAP! The sooner you start, the sooner your life will improve. Try out the two basic different types: in the ear canal and over-the-ear. For me the over-the-ear type drove me nuts with the tissue paper noise of my hair moving across the microphones. My in the canal pair are custom molded, have more features, too.


This thread is also available as a related topic:
iNatting / nature hikes while injured / handicapped

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I have a scarred eardrum on one side, making it difficult to hear certain frequencies and especially giving me a hard time with stereo-hearing.

In terms of interacting with nature it influenced me in two major ways - it killed an upcoming interest in birding early on and it keeps me from scuba diving (as I also have some difficulties with pressure control).

I started getting into birding with a good birder friend quite some years back. However, I soon realized that it was a real challenge for me to get directions right in a forest for example. I would constantly bevsearching for the birdie in the wrong direction. At some point it discouraged me too much, so I started focussing on other parts of naturalizing.

As for the scuba diving, it is actually more a fear of getting a definite “No” from the medical side, so I actually not yet checked if I indeed cannot do it. I now rather live in this still existing limbo land of “it still might be a possibility” instead of a reality of “no way you will ever do it” … at some point I will face it. (One might need to know that since childhood days I have this re-occuring dream if being able to breathe underwater… I love water).

Fortunately, nature is a big and diverse place, so everyone can find the right fit :wink: … and spiders are not that noisey usually anyways


I’ve definitely lost a bit of hearing (probably due to age and concerts…) but wouldn’t identify as hard of hearing as yet. I just want to say this is a super interesting and supportive thread. It’s reassuring to know how beneficial hearing aids can be.

Well, unless you have a laser microphone!


Okay, that video story was seriously engaging. I had no idea what sound artists a spider could be (in addition to being textile artists, of course).


It is encouraging to know that I am not the only one facing these problems, so thank you everyone for replying!

Finding the direction a sound is coming from is a big challenge for me too, whether it’s people or birds. I will just keep looking all around whether it’s a bird, or a person calling my name. When I was little and we first learned I was HOH, me crossing roads was a big concern for my parents. I was born deaf in one ear, though, so I really don’t know any other way of living, and I have developed some good ways to live in a loud distracting world.

My piano teacher blew up her eardrum while playing a tuba. She sticks to piano now, lol.

I am sorry that you became discouraged from birding and scuba diving, and I hope you can try them sometime with good results. I agree that nature really is so diverse-- there is something for everyone!


I have a scarred eardrum as well, though it doesn’t restrict my interactions with nature too much in my experience. Got it from going on a plane with an ear infection when I was younger and stupider which caused a partial rupture - some of the worst pain I’ve ever had!

It makes it tough for me to hear details anywhere noisy (bar, church with singing, party) because my one ear just fuzzes above a certain volume. I’ve never been scuba diving (always found the idea a little scary), but it’s good to know that this might be an issue ahead of time in case I ever decided to look into it. Hadn’t thought of that…I’m also not very good at finding birds by ear, and now wondering if that’s the reason why!


Yeah, actually the spider world is not as silent as one might think. Quite a few spiders are able to stridulate, which is the same mechanism e.g. grasshoppers use to produce sound. For example the genus Palpimanus uses this technique for mating purposes and defense. Some bird spider are capable of producing quite loud sounds actually… so good on me to have used the “usually”-qualifier here :wink:

Thats the same for me… I hate having to follow conversation in this kind of environment. We do not really know where my scar comes from. The ear-doctor says I should have had an ear infection at some point as well and that this would not have gone unoticed as it should have been pretty painful… my mom swears I never had an ear infection… well, who knows. Maybe I was a really tough kid :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


My daughter swears by her pair of LOOP Ear plugs. She says they filter the sounds that make listening difficult, while letting her hear the conversations. There are many Loop ear plugs for different settings/needs. I know that in my greater community Loop systems are available for free public use in specific areas.
Good hearing is very important as we age. I am sorry I ignored mine.


Born with one deaf ear, I have never heard in ‘stereo’

Not a birder, I focus on flowers. But I walk in a group which includes birders - I can look up and ask what’s that raptor, and they puzzle it out - or have already IDed it and can answer me. We make a good team with many eyes, ears, and memories crowd-sourcing. And iNat to help us with another layer.

I have 5 weeks of speaking German in a noisy multilingual environment. iNat is a peaceful relief!